Why Trump Is Good for Academia

We got the bully instead of the liar; let's talk

Posted Nov 15, 2016

The image that keeps coming to mind since last week's election is that of Trump's fist punching a hole in a wall of the liberal echo chamber. It's a weird image but it captures, at least in my mind, what's happened in a nutshell. I was shocked, like many people, by the final results when I woke up last Wednesday and heard the news. But since then, I've been feeling disappointed in myself for not being more aware of where things were headed. Why were we all so shocked? A lot has been written about the liberal echo-chamber that was recently shattered by Trump's surprise attack. But I'm someone who's never been sold down the river of any one political ideology (we philosophers might call that, and should think of that as, "group think") but I was still duped. I shared with students today in class (which I didn't cancel, by the way) a story about a conference I was at in 2009 where the keynote speaker addressed the few hundred people in the audience with a joke about the 2008 election, followed by the comment that "I know all of you voted for Obama anyway," or words to that effect. I caught up with this presumptuous group-thinker later at the cocktail hour and asked him why he would make that sweeping generalization. He replied only that we were all academics and that all academics are liberals. Never mind the fact that I had voted for Obama in that election, that kind of thinking made me crazy then, and I see it coming to a fever pitch in this most recent election.

The picture I used for this post was chalked on CU-Boulder's campus and reads "You Can Vote Today," but the subtitle might as well have been "as long as you vote for Hillary." The insidious liberal mindset so second nature to academics and college campuses has come back to bite us in the ass "big league" as Trump might say. A student confided to me today that he wasn't a Hillary supporter but was afraid to say that on campus. That's when my class plan went out the window. Ok, I thought, it's time to talk about this. We began the hour-long discussion by going around the room, each student saying one word to describe his or her feelings about the next four years. The words ranged from "terrified" to "optimistic" to "embarrassed" and "curious." The sentiments of the 18 students in my class were all over the map. The message? Do not assume that others feel the same way you do. Do not assume that other people think the way you think.

Good educators ask questions of their students, encouraging them to articulate their own points of view more effectively. Instead, this past week, we've seen professors telling their students that because they are disappointed in the election result, their students should be too. I am ashamed for the profession by the 33 million hits that "professors canceling class after election results" brings up, including tweets and emails from professors to their students saying "I know exactly how you feel" and copping out by canceling class and exams instead of having an open and philosophical discussion with their students who might feel drastically different than they do about the outcome of the election. Just because you wanted the liar instead of the bully, you shouldn't assume everyone else did too.

So why is Trump good for academia? Because he punched a hole in the liberal echo chamber of college campuses. He took us all by surprise and reminded us to not make ignorant presumptions about how others are feeling or thinking without even having a conversation with them.